We Need Better Voters

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In Friday’s Roanoke, VA Times there’s an editorial entitled We Need Better Voters, by Timothy P. Buchanan. I can agree with a lot of what he says, but not with his conclusions. The writer’s basic postition is that the current presidential election is a struggle between right and wrong, though it hasn’t always been that way. One of my friends sees it in those terms too, but his conclusion is the opposite of this writer’s. Mr. Buchanan’s basic definition of right and wrong has to do with abortion, acceptance of homosexuality, and higher taxes to support wasteful government. His position on these matters is based on sterotypes.

Not everyone sees abortion as a black and white issue. I used to, but from the opposite point of view. My reasoning was that laws against abortion didn’t stop it from happening, but it did prevent women who chose it to have it performed competently. Many such women would have complications that prevented them from ever having children again, and some died as a result from the procedure. That didn’t seem like a good thing to me.

I’m reminded of an article I read many years ago by a woman who got into an argument about abortion with a conservative friend or acquaintence, lost her temper, and said, “Abortion is a matter between me and my God.” She said that inadvertently she had put her feelings into terms her friend could relate to. That suggests that even abortion, which many people DO see as a black and white issue, can be seen from different viewpoints. Does that make it absolutely right or absolutely wrong? Not in my opinion. I believe that, given the right of abortion, the decision should be made for better than superficial reasons, but no one can be forced to make decisions by the criteria or in the spirit that we think they should. As with anything else, some will treat abortion as a serious decision, and others will not.

Homosexuality is another issue that causes a lot of people discomfort. Some consider the Biblical prohibition of it to be the absolute indicator of its wrongness. Others see the Biblical context as having little to do with our times. Just why the subject is so threatening to some people I don’t think many of us understand clearly. Somewhere in the first five books of the Bible, where the prohibition is, is also this quote: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, sayeth the Lord.” I would interpret this as saying that if there’s something wrong about the practice, God will punish it. Humans need not involve themselves. Many will disagree with that view, especially those who consider homosexuality a choice. If they believe this, then they presumably can make that choice themselves, and until I get clear evidence that at least one person with such beliefs has done so, I will politely disagree. I never felt my own sexual orientation was a choice, and doubt that those who see themselves as gay feel that way either.

There’s no question that government is frequently wasteful, but that’s not true in every case. According to my reading, Medicare, despite a high incidence of fraud (unacceptable, but probably difficult to prevent), is more efficient than private insurance companies, with (according to my memory) approximately 2% overhead, compared to the insurance industry’s average of 20 %. I also read that we have the most expensive health system of the developed world, much of the rest of which has “socialized” medicine. By some this is considered an obvious evil. I used to have a German friend who became a doctor and subsequently worked in many parts of the world. He explained that European governments considered it to their advantage to have a healthy population, which seemed reasonable to me. The whole uproar about “death  panels”  in which the government decided who was to live and who die, actually referred to something we already have: private insurance companies have the power to decide, on the basis of “preexsisting conditions” who gets treatment and who doesn’t. Does this being a private sector phenomenon make it better?

Mr. Buchanan says that Republicans generally favor life over abortion. In the case of abortion, that’s true, but Republicans also generally favor war. That’s a bit of a contradiction. I read tonight about a Pro-Life woman who concerns herself with the welfare of children after birth as well as before. That comes a lot closer to something I can get behind. The article said that she also tries to find ares of agreement with people who disagree with her, and works with them on the issues they DO agree on. That seems much closer to a Christian way of doing things than what we often see.

He says that Republicans also generally support the rights of individuals to create and hold wealth, and the right to do with it as they please. Generally this is true, but says little about the way in which wealth is obtained, for one thing. Many Republicans seem to think that almost any method of obtaining wealth is defensible, and some of the results of that attitude is that jobs get shipped overseas, to the detriment of American workers, and fraudulent practices go unpunished. Recently on Facebook I saw a sign which said, “Why is Bernie Madoff the only crooked banker doing jail time?” or words to that effect. The answer at the bottom was, “Because he stole from the 1%.” That seems to be all too sadly true.

And the question of freedom to do what you want with your money has limits too, and should. Wealthy people shouldn’t be able to raise private armies, for example, or contribute to their favorite politicians doing so, as happened in Germany between the end of the First World War and the accession of the Third Reich. Granted, a lot of what wealthy people choose to do can just be silly–see Romney’s elevator for his cars–but it can be pretty serious too, if you care about democracy.

Mr. Buchanan also says that our government imposes higher taxes “…to fund wasteful government programs, stealing the public’s money through taxation to pay for the basic needs of those who would rather not work for a living.” Here’s a stereotype that only the poor are lazy. Are wealthy people, especially those who have inherited money, more motivated to work than poor people? I would guess they’re often less motivated, and that they often use their money to influence the government to treat them preferentially. I see no good reason for CEO’s to make 300 to 400 times as much as their individual employees, especially when this depresses the economy because ordinary people have little money to spend. I also suspect that I know more poor people than Mr. Buchanan, and can assure him that not all of them are lazy. Laziness is not specific to one social class, though I would suggest that people with inherited money have less reason to want to work than poor people. Most people I’ve known who have been on welfare haven’t particularly enjoyed it.

And a lot of the wealthy who are taxed preferentially aren’t doing anything particularly productive with their “earnings”. They’re often using it to on the stock market and other places to make a profit. Something like what the Marxists used to call the “rentier class”. They don’t work for a living, but let their money make money for them.

A few hours before reading Mr. Buchanan’s piece, I heard a discussion on the radio about disgust. The fundamental form of that is an instinct that helps prevent us from putting things in our mouths that might cause us harm, but the phenomenon strays far beyond that to various ideas that many people are sensitive to, on one side or another. As I was listening to this, I found myself wondering if there was any connection to political mindset, and discovered there was. The people studying this question had discovered that conservatives are generally more squeamish than liberals, and that they prefer low-risk occupations. This seems paradoxical, since those who claim to speak for conservatives seem, at the moment, to idolize entrepeneurs, and to suggest that all of us should become one. It’s hard to think of a higher-risk occupation than being an entrepeneur. Not only do you have to have access to a lot of money, but you have to have a good idea and the ability to implement it. Not many people have all three, and more entrepeneurs fail than succeed, as it is. For years I’ve compared this entrepeneurial idealization to mandating that everyone become a musician. Self-made billionaires, according to another interview I heard on NPR, tend to the world-view that if they can make it, so can anyone else. A friend of mine, who has met a number of successful people, told me that all of them said they’d been lucky. Who’s right? You can probably guess my opinion.

The writer at least admits that Republicans aren’t blameless, as I admit that Democrats are far from blameless themselves. HIs view is that Democratic positions appeal more to people’s basic desires than noble principles. That one I have a lot of trouble with. You can find abortion ignoble, but what’s ignoble about ending discrimination, whether it’s of homosexuality or other minorities? That’s a form of nobility that Republicans don’t seem to get much at all, much less economic discrimination. He points out that adults can become vicious when denied their wishes, just like 2-year olds. That’s not specific to any political party or any other group, though. Consider Sarah Palin.

He ends by saying that we need a better electorate as well as better legislators, and it’s hard to see how anyone could disagree with that. Just what that better electorate, to say nothing of the better legislators would look like is probably in the eye of the beholder, though. If you consider homosexuals and other minorities evil by definition, you’ll have a different view from those who find other people acceptable who don’t look just like them. We don’t just need better voters, we need better thinkers: people who won’t fall for the propaganda of either side.

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